Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jesus of Mexican Holy Week


The middle-American Protestant Jesus is a generic image-  a nice, kind man perhaps surrounded by children or holding a lamb.  There are also images of the crucified Jesus with details spared and the resurrected Jesus clothed in light. However, the in-between Jesus- tried, beaten and tortured and then crucified is typically left to the imagination, apart from a few cinematic departures. 

The Mexican iconography of Jesus, particularly in the statues that are present in all churches, is very specific. - There are several "types" of Jesus that are related to different episodes in Holy Week, the days before Easter in which the story of the Passion unfolds.
These images are as follows:

  • Jesus Nazareno
  • Jesus whipped and tortured
  • Jesus Crucified
  • Santo Entierro 
  • Jesus waking
  • Cristo Resucitado

Jesus Nazareno, in English, Jesus of Nazareth is the living Jesus who has been arrested by the Romans, tried, beaten and later crucified.  As described in Scripture he is dressed in a purple robe with a crown of thorns on his head.  Some statues of this type have Jesus wearing a purple cape instead and show him seated after he has been scourged by the Romans.  Here are two examples:

Okutzcab, Yucatan, MX

San Bernardino de Siena Church, Xochimilco, MX

 In the figure of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, He is portrayed in wearing a purple cape, rather than a robe:

San Bernardino de Siena Church, Xochimilco, MX

There is another variation, Christ at the Pillar, which shows him standing by a pillar during his scourging:

Mision San Francisco de la Espada, San Antonio, Texas

Campeche, MX

Jesus Crucified is the Jesus on the Cross after He has been executed:

Valladolid Cathedral, Valladolid, Yucatan, MX

Santo Entierrro, or Christ buried is present in all the Mexican churches that I have seen and is on view throughout the year, but actively used in Good Friday liturgies.  This is a representation of Christ in the Tomb that is also used in Spain in the Good Friday processions.  It is not seen in the US except in churches of Mexican heritage, such as in the missions of San Antonio and similar places.  The "tombs" are generally glass coffins of varying styles and complexity.  Here is my very favorite:

San Miguel Arcangel Church, Mani, Yucatan, MX

At 9:30 pm Good Friday night the Santo Entierro you see above is carried in procession to the cemetery in the town.  All of the Santo Entierros are carried in some sort of procession on Good Friday, although the times and routes of the processions differ. Here are a few more examples:

Cathedral, Valladolid, MX

Cathedral, Puebla, MX

There is a very interesting variant of Santo Entierro that I have seen only in New Mexico; 
this is Santo Entierro waking, as seen below.  If you look closely at this photo  (it is clickable), you can see Jesus' eyes are opening and that his hand has moved slightly. 

Santa Cruz, New Mexico

There is another representation of Jesus that will be  new for visitors from the US.
This is Cristo Resucitado, or Christ after the Resurrection.  Whereas in this country and most of Western Europe, the Risen Christ is show as a luminous human being, in Mexican iconography, there is a very specific representation of the Risen Christ that, historically, is derived from the Roman statue of the Apollo Belvedere. In the photo directly below, Cristo Resucitado is seen standing on top of his empty tomb. Notice the raised arm position of this representation of Christ.

Las Monjas, Merida, Yucatan

Itzimina Church, Merida, MX

The photo directly above was taken during a wonderful Good Friday Night service during which Christ is actually "resurrected" in a burst of light (strobe lights in this case).  This liturgy is done all over Mexico and is amazing to witness.  The Cristo Resucitado statue which you see in the lower right hand of the photo was rushed to the front altar area during the time when the church courtyard, where the service was held, went from total darkness to the burst of light which I described.  

There are other images of Jesus such as the  miracle-working Black Christs. However, these are not directly connected to Holy Week and will explored in a future post.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mexican Christs: Cristos de Caña

Cathedral, Merida, Yucatan

Christ carried in Good Friday procession, Merida, Yucatan (Mary is visible behind)

In my last post, "Converting Christianity", I spoke of the transformation of Spanish Catholicism in its encounter with the indigenous faiths of Mexico.  The same occurred in the rest of Mesoamerica, as well and we will explore some of this in later posts.  This photo of the tortured Christ, which I saw carried in procession this past Good Friday in Merida is one of many such statues you will see in  the churches of Mexico.  They are made from corn in a process that I will describe and for this reason are known as Cristos de Caña, or Corn Christs. 

The one thing that all these statues have in common is that they are bloody, very bloody.
Take a look:

San Miguel Arcangel Church, Mani, Yucatan

San Juan Bautista Church, Coyoacan, MX

Santa Cruz, New Mexico

Figures like these need to be light-weight because they were and are frequently carried in religious processions.  A material that had been used in pre-Hispanic times was a kind of paper mache made of corn products.  The indigenous sculptors  actually held workshops to teach the process to the Christian priests and their workers.

To make the material  the corn husk was opened and the pith removed. A framework was made of  dried maize leaves fastened together and then covered with a mixture of corn pith paste and a sticky substance from orchid bulbs. After it was dry, a fine layer of the paste was spread over it and modeled. The red color used in the blood came from insects that fed on the fruit of the sacred (to the Aztecs) nopal cactus.

The materials that form these Christs were full of symbolism and significance for the indigenous.  Corn had been an Aztec god and maize was a sacred life-giving food. In these Corn Christs the two symbol systems, Christian and indigenous, are merged creating something that is completely new.  In their own unique way, they are a god within a god.

There has been much scholarly speculation as to why these figures are universally so bloody. True, there had been precedents in bloody Passion-week Spanish figures of Christ.  But, for the meso-american indigenous, the bloodiness had a different meaning and this is the point of view espoused by Jennifer Scheper Hughes.  If we think back to their religious practices, a lot of blood was involved because of the sacrificial tradition.  The Aztec priests are described as having been blood-covered from head to toe.  When you consider that one of the ways Jesus was described in scripture was as the "Great High Priest", it would make sense for those trying to "sell" the indigenous converts on Christ to make these Christs resemble the Aztec priests of old.  In the Aztec tradition, blood had meant power and the bloodiness of these figures is something the indigenous would have immediately understood and revered.  Remember, part of the conversion effort was to convince the indigenous that the new god was more powerful than the old ones and the bloodiness of the Christ figures is believed to have been a part of this initial effort. 

You may have noticed that in one of the photos, the Christ is lying in a glass casket.  This is a specific representation of Christ, Santo Entierro, that you will see in every Mexican church.  It is Christ, but a very particular representation of Him with a very specific use during Holy Week. We will explore this in my next post.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Converting Christianity: the Catholic-Indigenous "Dialogue"

Crucified Christ, San Bernardino de Siena, Xochimilco, MX

As strange as it may seem, the indigenous peoples' major difficulty was not in accepting this new god, Jesus Christ.  In their culture it was expectable to take the conqueror's god or gods into the old pantheon.  The way they understood it,  the conquerors had won because their gods were more powerful and given this, why wouldn't they  want the more powerful god on their side? According to their game plan, they got a new god , acquired extra power and kept their old gods as well. But, this was not what the Spanish had in mind.  They expected the indigenous  to immediately see the truth and superiority of Christianity and give up their native gods, customs and beliefs.  

What the Spanish got was resistance- armed uprisings in many places as well as resistance in the form of holding onto idols and concealing them and clandestine practice of old religious rituals and customs.  The Spanish became aggressive and vigilant in their effort to root out the old ways, for instance the tragic burning of the Mayan codices at Mani in 1562.

After a while, the bishops realized that conversion to Christianity was not going to happen over night and altered their policies.  They lengthened their conversion time-table and began to look within the indigenous beliefs and practices for places where they might form connections between the old faith and the new one. The process of conversion slowly changed into a kind of  dialogue in which, as it turned out,  visual elements played a central role.

The friars did not have to search far for points of contact between the two religious systems,  because  sacrifice was a central idea of both- Christ's sacrifice on the cross for Christianity and the centrality of human sacrifice in many Mesoamerican groups.  The indigenous could easily identify with the ideas of eating Christ's body and drinking his blood ( ritual cannibalism had been practiced by some groups), so much so that the Catholic clergy initially put this whole issue on a back burner until they felt their converts were far enough along in the faith to understand it appropriately.   

But, don't get the wrong idea, sacrifice was not the only bond between the two religious systems.  The cross, the central symbol of Christianity, was also a significant symbol in Mesoamerican religions, where it was referred to the Tree of Life, a symbol also found in many religions throughout the world.

Mayan Tree of Life, Palenque, Chiapas, MX

The Christian cross, as it evolved in Mexican christianity, was different than its European counterpart, at least in the early days of the Conquest.  In these early days Christ was never shown hanging on the cross, as would have been the case in the typical crucifix.  This would have been too close to the indigenous experience of human sacrifice and the friars took care to eliminate this comparison.  The early crosses you see in Mexico are unique.

Atrial Cross, Jilotepec
Atrial Cross, Las Monjas, Merida, Yucatan

In both of these atrial crosses (crosses in the atrium or patio or a convent or church), 
you see a head in the center of the cross.  This is the head of Christ, with Christ being in the Cross, not on the Cross, as we discussed previously, to eliminate any comparison between Christ's sacrificial death on the cross and pre-Hispanic sacrifice.  Both of these crosses are covered with the symbols of the Passion (the sequence of events leading up to and including Christ's crucifixion) as a teaching device. Some scholars believe that putting Jesus in the cross is also way of stating that Jesus is within the World Tree, which was center of the universe for the Mesoamerican indigenous peoples. 

The changes in the Cross are just one instance of the adaptations in Spanish Catholicism that were necessary in its encounter with the indigenous and the effort to bring them within the fold.  In fact, one could argue that  the unique visual culture of Mexican Catholicism is a by-product of this encounter,  that it is a record of the process of on-going dialogue between the two faith-systems.  The Christianity that the friars brought to the Americas was  a different one than emerged and we will continue to explore this fascinating topic. 


Friday, March 22, 2013

Location, location, location: Churches on top of Pyramids

Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, Cholula, Puebla
This church (first built in 1594-1666) appears to be sitting on top of the crest of a hill and this is both true and not true.  It actually is built on top of a grown-over, immense Pre-Hispanic pyramid,  which was excavated beginning in 1931. Today, visitors can walk through the extensive tunnel system of the pyramid, which was built over the course of 11 centuries (300 BC-900 CE).  

True, at the time of the conquest, this pyramid-temple complex had been abandoned, was overgrown with vegetation and looked like a hill.  Yet, according to my guide in Cholula, even at that time, there were stories going around about the presence of the pyramid within the hill.  Why would the Spanish chose this place, on top of a pagan structure, to locate the church of the very important Virgen de los Remedios (Virgin of the Remedies), an historically significant,  miracle-working image of the Virgin that had come from Spain?

 As we shall later see, there were very good reasons for putting a church on top of a pre-Hispanic holy site and that this was a basic principle of Colonial Mexican church location. Take a look at the following photo:

San Antonio de Padua, Izamal, Yucatan


As you can see, this church complex was built well above street level, in fact, on the foundation of an old pyramid.  It was common practice to re-use many of the stones from the old structure. Re-using the stones was a both a practical matter as well as having additional significance as will be discussed later.  Below, you will see one of these re-used stones with a Mayan glyph in the steps leading up to the convent complex.  

Stone in Izamal staircase showing Mayan Glyph

The Cathedral in Mexico City (Catedral Metropolitana de la Asuncion de Maria)
was built on the grounds of the Templo Mayor, one of the main Aztec temples in 
Tenochtitlan their capital, now known as Mexico City.

Mexico City Cathedral seen from the Templo Mayor ruins

The geology of the Yucatan peninsula was very different than that of Central Mexico.
In the Yucatan the ground was limestone and there were many cenotes, pond-like bodies of water formed by the collapse of the limestone, as well as caves.  These were both considered holy sites, places of communication with the realm of the gods. The friars built shrines on the edges of these cenotes.

Cenote in Yucatan

In any case, the same principles were operating whether the new Christian building was put  either directly on or close to an indigenous holy site, as with the cenotes: 

  • It demonstrated continuity between the power of the old religion and the new
  • The power of the old religion, by the proximity, was absorbed into the new
  • pre-Hispanic buildings were often only partly torn-down and their materials re-used for the church
  • The sanctity of the old site was preserved

As we have seen in this post and the previous one, "From Pyramid to Church",  there was a great deal of intuitive spiritual psychology that went into  the church architecture of Colonial Mexico as well as that of the rest of the Colonial Latin American world.  All of the churches are fascinating just on the level of the way they look, but understanding more of what went into them makes the experience of seeing and being in them even more exciting. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

From Pyramid to Church

The landscape of Mexico had always been a sacred one, dotted with the pyramids and temples of its inhabitants.  The ruins we have left to see are magnificent tributes to cultures that once thrived and that live on in the unique Christianity that evolved from the encounter between the indigenous beliefs and the Spanish Catholic church.  I would like to point out that the ruins were originally all vibrantly painted (as were the ruins of Greece and Rome). They were not the white/gray color that we now see. There are some books available that through transparencies show their very different original appearance.

Uxmal, Yucatan 

After the Conquest, the landscape was refurbished with conventos (churches plus living quarters for the friars) and churches springing up in large numbers in Central Mexico as well as in the Yucatan.  These convent/churches tended to be mammoth structures and were home to the friars who were  evangelizing the indigenous, as well as being worship spaces.  The very first one of these I visited was St. Nicolas de Tolentino in Actopan.

St. Nicolas de Tolentino, Actopan, MX

The first time I saw this convent,  my jaw dropped.  It loomed massive, stony and imposing in front of me,  It’s vertical stone walls crowned with jagged parapets, standing next to it I felt dwarfed.  These "fortress churches" were huge, overwhelming structures and as  we shall learn shortly, this effect was not lost on their audience.

Seen below is San Bernardino de Siena, in Coyoacan near Mexico City, one of my favorite conventos which has an elegant and beautifully restored interior.

San Bernardino de Siena, Xochimilco, MX

In the Yucatan, the early convents were similarly large, but tended to be different in style largely because of the needs of the different physical environment and kinds of building materials that were available.   Here are two of my favorites.  Directly below is San Antonio de Padua in Izamal, Yucatan.  This convento has the largest enclosed atrium (patio or courtyard) in the Americas and for this reason has been dubbed "the Vatican of the Yucatan".

San Miguel Arcangel, Mani Yucatan
It was here in Mani, in 1562, that the infamous Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the burning of all the Mayan codices (books).  Only three fully-authenticated Mayan codices survive and all are now located in Europe.  Notice the horseshoe-shaped opening to the left of the entrance. This is the "Indian Chapel", an out-door chapel where religious services were held
at first for the indigenous, newly acquainted with the church, and not yet used to worshipping in an indoor space.

The question remains why these buildings resembled huge fortresses.  It was not for protection of the friars who lived and worked there; this was not an area with any ongoing physical threat.  By the time that they were constructed, at least in Central Mexico, the conquest had been finalized.  True, some of their mammoth scale was functional- there were large numbers of indigenous to be evangelized and space was needed.  But there was an even more important reason.  These new buildings, symbolic of the new religion, had to compete with the structures of the old religion.  They had to be every bit as impressive and monumental as the temples and pyramids, the Templo Mayors, the Chichenitzas that spoke religious power to the indigenous.  These were people from  complex and ancient religious traditions. If the Christian god, the god who had defeated the old gods was indeed the most powerful, he needed an impressive house. The architectural marvels that the Spanish built, as we shall see with much indigenous assistance, were exactly this. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spanish Conquest: A Battle of Images

While it is true that the conquest of the Americas was achieved through the Spaniard's superior fire-power, there were other things to consider.  The diseases that they brought to the New World, like smallpox, to which the indigenous had no immunity, resulted in huge epidemics that reduced their population.  Plus,  there was another piece of "heavy artillery" that, as you will see,  in the long run was probably the most potent.  I am referring to the religious images of the Spanish.

The Spanish were threatened by the images of the indigenous, such as these below photographed at the Museo de Antropologia in Mexico City.   Throughout the Conquest, it was routine for the Spanish to destroy such "idols" of those they subjugated. 

Why were images so important? Weren't they just inanimate objects?  The answer, as well shall see, is no.

The Spanish were very attached to their own images, to the point of carrying them into battle in the form of battle standards.  It was routine for the Spanish to carry a banner with the Virgin Mary in the form of Guadalupe of Extremadura who differs from the later and more widely known Guadalupe.  (This diversity of representations of Mary can get confusing and I will delve into them in a future post.) The Spanish also replaced indigenous images with their own, as was the case when Cortes put a statue of the Virgin in one of Montezuma's temples, thereby claiming it for his own.

                                     The "heavy artillery": Guadalupe of Extremadura

So what are images and why are they so important?  To make a very long story short images are not just for looking. They acquire a life and power of their own and the god or goddess in the image is charged with "presence."  Humans often respond to religious images interactively, as if they were living beings. This was the case with the subjugated indigenous as well as the Spanish and so, in addition to the outright war-fare, a sort of proxy war was fought with religious images.  

The film "La Otra Conquista" ("The Other Conquest") is a magnificent demonstration of the
deep attachment that people have to their images and I highly recommend watching this movie to understand the role that images played in the Spanish Conquest.  I also recommend David Freedberg's book, "The Power of Images", for its general theory of images. 


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Friars: Peace Corps 16th century style

Parade during Festival of St. Michael the Archangel (San Miguel d'Allende, 2010)

Friars from the religious orders followed the Conquistadors wherever they went,  beginning
in 1500 with the island of Santo Domingo (Hispaniola).  In 1524 twelve Franciscan friars
called the "twelve apostles of New Spain" (to mirror Jesus' twelve apostles) arrived in Mexico to serve as the spiritual arm of the Conquest.  The message in the photo above is clear: the friar is showing disapproval of the indigenous ritual of sacrifice.  This ritual, odious to us and to the Europeans who observed it five centuries ago, was actually a deep part of the cosmic and religious systems of many of the meso-american peoples.  Within their beliefs it was necessary for the continuation of life and was highly ritualized and regulated and not a  wanton blood-thirst and slaughter. 

These first Franciscans were idealists, utopians.  In the indigenous they saw fresh soil for a Christianity that was pure and unstained by worldly concerns the way it had become in Europe.  Trying to understand these new discovered peoples within a biblical context  (as you recall this was the only context available in the 16th century), some conjectured the  indigenous were a tribe of lost Jews.  In the idealistic hopes of these early Franciscans, they strove to create a new Jerusalem, an Indian Jerusalem.   They faced enormous hardships in this new unsettled land and came at enormous cost to personal comfort and safety and, in general, they were good men who truly believed in what they were doing.   Some, such as Bernardino de Sahagun and Bartolome de las Casas, became champions of the indigenous and their protectors against the abuses of the Spanish settlers, whose aims were often less than spiritual.

Friars' "Job Description"

The photo taken in a church in Campeche, Yucatan,  shows salvation from eternal damnation, the central religious concern of the time. ( Note that a bishop is included among those in the flames, indicating that Hell is inclusive.)  Mary, the Queen of Heaven is lifting souls from the flames.  The job of the friars was to save their indigenous charges from damnation by teaching them the Gospel and leading them to Jesus. This was a job, as we shall see, that turned out to be more difficult than they had imagined.

Within the values  of their times, which I have described more fully in my previous post, "The Mind-set of the Spanish Conquest", the friars believed they were doing the absolutely best thing one could do for another human being, despite how we may perceive their actions within a contemporary framework.   In their day and age, there was no abstract concept of "human rights", everything was bound up with religion.  Within this context, a human's most important and most basic right was the salvation of his/her soul and, given this,  the most altruistic thing the friars knew to do for the indigenous was to offer them this right through the word of Jesus.   In the new and untamed lands, the friars did this at considerable personal risk and sacrifice.   All this has led Prof. Samuel Y. Edgerton to compare them to the Peace Corps volunteers, and this really is a good way to understand their essential mission.  Like the Peace Corps, they wanted to better mankind and save the world and they attempted to do this, as they understood it, with the spiritual tools at their disposal.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mindset of the Spanish Conquest

Medieval " Wikipedia": The Bible

Imagine a world without Google, Wikipedia, encyclopedias, libraries, in fact without books and those only for the tiny educated elite.  There you have it- a world with just one legitimate source of knowledge, the Bible.  Everything that was known or could be known was contained in this one book and anything new that came up had to be understood in terms of it. This is the medieval mind-set, the way that people thought at the time of Columbus' journeys and the Spanish Conquest of the New World that followed. There were some like Copernicus and Galileo who were independent thinkers, but they were branded as heretics by the Church.

This was not a time that accorded equal status to all religions. Christianity to them was the crown of God's plan for mankind and the apocalyptic views prevalent at the time stated that all mankind must be converted to Christianity before the second coming of Christ and the end-times when all would be set right in the reign of Jesus the messiah.  The Spanish had been successful in this venture on their own peninsula in the reconquista and with the final expulsion of the Jews in 1492.  Completely ridding the land of Muslims was a work in process.  It is no wonder that with the discovery of new unconverted peoples in the Americas that they passionately pursued their policy of spiritual conquest. As they understood it, it was their holy mission. 

Unknown to most of us are the apocalyptic writings of Christopher Columbus, The Book of Prophecies, written after his third voyage. In it he justified his voyages in terms of the role they played in fulfilling pre-conditions for the second coming of Christ, including the spreading of Christianity throughout the world and the finding of the Garden of Eden in the Americas. This is not the Columbus most of us encountered in grade school who "discovered America".  This is the Columbus driven by the religious ideology of his time. Remember, his ships all had crosses on the sails and this was not for "X marks the spot".  They were the symbols of the faith that drove his world. 

Understanding the mindset of the times, it is easier to be less judgmental about the Conquistadors and their religious arm, the Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian and other friars (men in the religious orders) who accompanied them.  They were doing what they believed was the correct thing- saving the world. This is the imperative they were fulfilling even if we, centuries later, disagree with their methods.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Spanish Conquest: the good, the bad and the beautiful

Cortes and Company
Recently I taught an introductory course on Colonial Latin American Art and Architecture to a group of adults.  At the onset, one of the class members stated that she could not forgive the  Spanish.  She was angry at them for their  treatment of the indigenous peoples during the Conquest of the Americas. I had to come up with something quickly or that was the end of the class I had planned.  We could have spent the entire session expanding upon the cruelty heaped by the Spanish upon those they subjugated- not only the American Indigenous but the Jews and Muslims in their own country.  The truth was that the Spanish had a passionate sense of their own mission in Christianizing the world they knew, but those were different times with a different mind-set than ours. We will be exploring this in my next post.

My rapid response to her was this.  While it was true that Spanish colonialization was often a cruel process, it was important to see beyond that to the resulting alchemy of the blending of Spanish aims with the resistance of the Indians.  A magnificent material culture- art, architecture and customs- was born from the pain of the indigenous- the subjugated Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and others- all the people who suffered under the yoke of the Spanish, but who in turn also changed the culture of their captors resulting in an entirely new order.

The history of art tells us that there is a universal link between art and pain.  The colonial Mexican world is almost a laboratory for seeing this link.  From the brokenness of the indigenous peoples, from the attempted destruction of their pyramids, temples, their religion and culture something totally unique was born- something completely unlike anything before.  That was Colonial Latin American world with it's magnificent churches, sculpture, paintings, and celebrations. These are the equal of anything you can see in Europe and even more interesting because you can so clearly see their roots, the imprint of the suffering that went into them and the triumph that emerged.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Is Mexico Safe?

Marvel or Death-trap?
             Cholula (Puebla) church built on top of pre-Columbian pyramid  
 Before I left for a recent trip to Puebla, Mexico (a place rich in colonial history and treasures),   I was surprised at the warnings i got from friends in the U.S. "Take care of yourself", "You are going through Mexico City by yourself?" (I had to transfer from plane to bus in the absolutely world-class airport there).  Now, you have to realize that I live part of the year in a US city that has recently received the dubious honor of being named the nation's murder capital.  So, I pointed that out to both of them and went about packing my bags.

Recent research has shown that most of the areas that are home to the colonial cities of Mexico are safer than many US cities. Case in point- Merida, the capital of Yucatan.  During visits there I have felt completely comfortable walking around there day and night by myself- and I am a card-carrying "Gringa", complete with long blonde hair.  But, don't take my word for it.

Here are a few facts (taken from the San Francisco Chronicle's "Five Safest Places in Mexico") :  At only 1.1 deaths per 100,000, he state of Tlaxcala, a richly historic area, is rated as Mexico's safest state followed by the Yucatan at 1.3 per 100,000.  Up next is Puebla at 1.85 per 100,000. This is an area with 2,600 historic buildings,  a wealth of archaeological sites and nonstop festivals.  Queretaro has just 2.02 deaths per 100,000.  For additional assurance I would recommend going on-line and checking out the murder rates in major US cities for comparison.

Perhaps I am a fool, but I feel comfortable driving around the Yucatan, which is near my home base of Akumal, by myself day or night- much more so than in my own US city.  So, if media exposure has been holding you back from the wonderful world of Colonial Mexico,
perhaps my blog can help you reconsider.  Sure there are parts of Mexico that are genuinely dangerous, but those are in limited areas, generally near the frontier with the US, and can be avoided.